- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN (AP) - Militants in suicide vests attacked the provincial council’s office in Afghanistan’s largest southern city Wednesday in a multipronged attack that began with a car bomb explosion, officials said. At least nine people _ including three attackers _ died.

The coordinated assault underscored a new tactic by Afghan militants to launch multidirectional attacks against government offices. It mirrored a February attack in Kabul, where militants assaulted three government buildings simultaneously, killing 20.

Wednesday’s attack killed five civilians and a police officer, said Zemeri Bashary, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman.

The assault began when a car rigged with explosives detonated outside the offices of the provincial council, said Sayad Ahmad, a council official.

Then, three militants wearing suicide vests and carrying AK-47 assault rifles stormed the building just before noon, Bashary said. Police killed two of the suicide attackers and the third one blew himself up, Bashary said, bringing the overall death toll to at least nine.

Ahmad said all three attackers detonated their vests. It wasn’t possible to immediately reconcile the differing accounts.

“Three men with military-style uniforms started opening fire on our security guards, before, one by one, they detonated themselves,” Ahmad said.

Haji Agha Lalai, a council member, told The Associated Press he was inside the building when he heard a first explosion. He said one provincial council member was wounded.

Ahmad Wali Karzai, a brother of President Hamid Karzai, is the top official on the Kandahar council. He told The Associated Press he was not in the building during the attack.

Violence in Afghanistan is expected to surge this year as 21,000 new U.S. troops deployed by President Barack Obama arrive.

Militant attacks have grown increasingly deadly the last three years, and insurgents now control wide swaths of countryside where Afghan and international forces don’t have enough manpower to maintain a permanent presence.

In the February attack in Kabul, Taliban militants killed 20 people in a coordinated assault on three government buildings. Armed with guns, grenades and suicide vests, they stormed through barricades at the Justice Ministry in the heart of Kabul and a corrections department building in the city’s north.

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